Monday, November 10, 2008

Food journey

Being up when I should be sleeping yet again, I've been perusing blogs, many of them new to me. I've been reflecting a little on where we are on our food journey. Maybe "food journey" is a bit pretentious. I'm thinking of what foods we eat, what are our habits, given that I've now been reading about ethical food issues for a loooong time.

I grew up eating food from our family garden. The earliest story of my interest is of me eating green tomatoes from the garden as a toddler. When I was eight, my parents moved out into the country at the beginning of summer, onto an acre of land which was planted in strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries. There were fruit trees around the edges of the property, lots of potatoes and I forget what other vegetables. The fruit was very yummy and another part of the experience was of manning (or 'childing') the small roadside stall which came with the property. It had a fabulous old cash register which was still in pounds and pennies.

As a second year university student flatting for the first time, I started a small garden with kitchen herbs and lettuce. Throughout my extended student flatting days, I started several gardens in different homes. Sometimes flowers and sometimes vegetables. Sometimes all I had was a couple of pots in the window or at the top of the stairs.

In Auckland in 1999, I started to get interested in organics, spurred on by a friend I stayed with when first job hunting. Later in the year I moved back to Ponsonby (ah hah hah hah the wealthy days!!!) and started to shop again at the organic grocer's and the organic butcher's in Grey Lynn.

2001-2005 we were living in London. We experimented with a few different organic vege boxes and with buying direct from the markets. Once I found that Favourite Handyman liked the markets I was onto a winning arrangement. One of us would take the tube to Liverpool Street every Sunday with a tramping pack on our backs to buy up the lovely organic food from Spitalfields Market for the week. For the first four years we were in a tiny flat where nothing would even grow in the window (not even a cactus!) but in our final year in London we were in a terraced house with a back lawn and I was enormously happy creating a food garden in it.

Back in New Zealand in 2006, we were saving for a house deposit and organics in our tiny town were either unavailable or four times the price of conventional alternatives. I quickly realised that the only way we could afford to eat 'organic' food was to grow it ourselves. Later that year we bought a first home. It was a lovely little house with a good sized flat back section. As it was an ex-rental, there was almost no garden so I had a clean canvas to work with.

Two years later and even conventionally grown broccoli is currently $3.49 per head. I can understand why so many people say they can only afford to buy frozen vegetables. But this time we have a good supply of swiss chard/silverbeet in our garden and so that supplements our bought frozen peas for the green part of our meals.

We have had two entirely local meals recently. Whitebait fritters. We have been very lucky this season and been gifted three meals' worth of locally caught whitebait. We whisk one of our home grown eggs up, add the whitebait (about 500gm) and then cook it in spoonfuls on the frypan. The butter probably comes from somewhere else in New Zealand, but overall it was pretty local and utterly delicious.

I've been making bread off and on all year. The no knead recipe which I found on Joanna's website recently has turned out to be extremely accommodating as well as easy. Yesterday I left it for the fifteen minutes turned on the bench part for about two hours as I forgot about it (yes I was in the garden) and when I did put it in the oven it was very sticky and not that promising looking. It still came out tasting very good.

I never buy fresh herbs any more. I have parsley all year round and mint, oregano, basil, chives, thyme and coriander in the garden in the warmer months. I don't buy garlic from the supermarket any more. I have either ours that we grew or the garlic I bought in bulk to supplement ours from an organic grower up near Karamea, which is still on the West Coast. I never buy leafy greens. We've had our own kale and/or silverbeet all this year.

Other foods are still works in progress. It is true that we've grown our own beetroot but it's also true that we only grew about six. We ate only our own potatoes for about a month at the beginning of this year and had our own salad tomatoes for all of January. I did need to buy in tomatoes (locally grown) in order to make pasta sauce to freeze. We have yet to eat a single fruit from our garden, but that may change this year - raspberries, blackberries, feijoas, blackcurrants and blueberries may all be ours if the Gods shine upon our garden.

I coveted chooks for a long time before we finally got them in Spring (September) of this year. They have been a wonderful addition to our garden, kitchen and family. We are now growing vegetables in the area they first lived in and have set them to work cultivating and fertilising the area around the feijoa trees. In Autumn, when the potatoes have all been harvested, we will moved them onto the current potato patch. That is also the highest part of the garden and so the least boggy in the rain. They will be nourishing that area all winter, getting it ready to become the glasshouse spot next Summer.

There is still a lot we can do to grow more food on our property. I have been focusing increasingly on improving the soil conditions rather than asking what vegetables we want next. The principles of organic gardening and of permaculture are starting to sink in. Our very high rainfall and the challenges that presents in terms of poor drainage is my biggest challenge.

We still eat fish, though not as frequently as I would like given the local fish shop closed down and I refuse to buy it at the supermarket. During busy times we eat quite a lot of meat. Up to four times a week when one-two would be better. Canned tomatoes and canned chickpeas feature heavily. I would like to be using fewer cans, but they are still better than packaged, processed, expensive ready meals. Or so I think.


Frances said...

I found that fascinating to read! For some reason I'd assumed you'd been on your current property for many many years! I'm impressed with what you've done in just two years. :-)

Sandra said...

Thanks Cesca. The beginning was the hardest bit in terms of not having home made compost ready to go. The Bokashi system really helped.

Marino said...

heya. loved your food journey, very fascinating. i grew up eatting veges from Mum's garden and sometimes "helping" her grow veges with my lil water melon and strawberry patches.

I didn't actually get serious about it till the start of this year though. Although where I live, at my Grandparents place, we do have silverbeet, mint and rocket growing as a weed! :D